2020 Buick Encore GX — A right-size semi-lux compact crossover

By Dan Scanlan - MyCarData
 
Kids are cute when they are small and fit in a car seat. Then they grow up, and you need more room. Well, just like a child who grows into teen-hood, Buick’s 168.3-inch-long Encore sub-compact crossover has grown up — sort of. Joining the baby Buick now in a lineup thats almost all crossover comes the 3-inch-longer Encore GX, positioned below the larger Envision and Enclave models.

Buick says almost 90 percent of its U.S. sales come from crossovers, no surprise since the only non-crossover in its current seven-vehicle lineup is a sedan-based Regal TourX. And with more than half of its almost 207,000 overall sales last year coming from the Encore, maybe a bit bigger version can help the Encore line become Buick’s road master.

• In 2013, Buick did what many car companies have done — added a smaller crossover as more customers drifted away from traditional sedans. It grabbed an existing European model – the Opel Mokka — and grafted new Buick bodywork to its 5-door hatchback shape. Chevrolet also did the same to make its Trax.
 

The Encore got a makeover in 2017 with the now-current Buick winged grill, but is destined to end its run soon. But its encore is the bigger GX, with an even more aggressive design. A wider gloss black mesh design has chrome Buick wings spearing slim headlights with LED DRLs. Turn signals and LED fog lights live below in sculpted black side vents with chrome accents. A lower intake has buff silver-framed faux lower brush shield. It’s a nice take on the family face.

Black plastic trim takes a crossover’s familiar trip around gently flared fenders, then widens on lower door sills. The fenders frame 18-inch Hankook Kinergy GT tires on 10-spoke silver and chrome alloy wheels, a bit of space between tread and flare. The GX’s doors get nice side sculpting, with incised rear shoulder lines beginning over rear door handles and on into the fenders.
 

The roofline has slim silver rack rails as it tapers aft to a long shade over high hatchback window. Side window trim tapers to points, upper chrome widening to spears in the D-pillars over gloss black aero panels. LED taillights add a Buick identity over a black lower bumper with more chrome and a buff silver faux brush guard. The added length, about two inches of that in the wheelbase, gives the GX a more graceful look.

• Basic black is the dress code inside the Encore GX, a bit more stylized and layered than the smaller Encore with some chrome and textured accents added hither and yon. It’s not so much luxurious as a bit more premium.
 

The black leather driver’s seat is comfortable if flat and firm, with power adjustments, two memory presets and heat. It’s at a nice height to just slide into, facing a 3-spoke leather-clad steering wheel with audio controls in back and the usual phone, adaptive cruise, audio and rim heating controls up front. Chrome-trimmed analog 140-mph speedometer and 8,000-rpm tach live under a flowing padded leatherette dashtop with stitched edge, a unique pop-up head-up screen atop it with speed, safety system status, navigation and audio information. The clear head-up screen gave us a big, easy-to-read display. A nicely-angled central touchscreen has navigation, audio, phone, climate control and a “Home” screen. A second tap of its on-screen button pops up more functions as well as free Weather Channel with radar, Amazon Alexa and iHeartRadio. All icons can be tapped and moved like a smartphone.
 

There’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to hook up a smartphone, plus Wi-Fi. Basic audio controls are below the screen, with dual-zone climate controls, plus twin USB ports, 12-volt outlet and an MP3 input under that. The inductive phone charger slot at the base of the center stack held my larger phone. The center console has buttons for auto-engine off at stops, parking sensors and self-parking assist, lane-keep assist, a deep storage nook and a high armrest with more stowage space inside. Voice command is one- or two-phrase easy for audio, navigation and phone.

The extra wheelbase makes back seat leg room quite tolerable, with two more USB ports nearby. But the seatbacks are angled straight up, so you can’t really relax. The seatbacks split and fold 60/40 to expand the boxy 25.3-cu.ft. cargo area, its carpeted floor hiding more stowage space underneath. That floor can be adjusted higher to level it with the folded seats.

The front passenger seat folds flat so you can carry an 8-foot long object diagonally. The rear hatch is hands-free, a small Buick emblem spot-lit on the ground at night to show where to wave a foot to get it open. The horn had a deep-throated sound like it came off a classic Cadillac.
 

• The bigger baby Buick has a choice of two turbocharged in-line 3-cylinder engines – the standard 1.2-liter four with 137-hp, or our vehicle’s 1.3-liter four with 155 hp and 174 ft-lbs. of torque. Our front-wheel drive model had a Continuously Variable Transmission to save gas, while all-wheel-drive versions get a 9-speed automatic.

Our 3,500-mile-old test vehicle launches moderately, then gets a turbo boost just under 2,000 rpm to hit 60-mph in a quick enough 8.9 seconds. The CVT’s belt and pulley “upshifted” twice before ultimately leaving the engine buzzing high between 5,000- and 5,400-rpm as it accelerated. Buick says the Encore GX has QuietTuning sound insulation, but we could hear the engine working under hard acceleration, with a snarling exhaust note. There are no drive modes, just the ability to manually shift via a rocker switch on the shift knob.
 

The engine loafs along at a grumbly low 1,200-rpm when you are cruising in “top gear” on side streets. Even at 65 mph, the engine is barely hitting 2,000-rpm, although engine and CVT respond when passing is requested, the transmission mimicking a “downshift” quickly to access power to pass. I’d still rather have a more precise geared automatic. All of those low rpms courtesy of the CVT saw us get a decent observed fuel mileage of 27 mpg. My suggestion – go all-wheel-drive with bigger engine and get sharper shifts and quicker engine response at launch and passing from its 9-speed transmission.

The McPherson strut front/trailing arm rear suspension gave it a taut and supple ride, a tightly controlled bounce following bumps and dips and some nice buffering over broken pavement. The body is stiff and tight with no rattles as the front-wheel-drive CUV hangs in neutrally with some body roll on highway off-ramps. In tighter turns, it was neutral and nimble, a hint of understeer if pushed. It handles pretty well, just right for the cut-and-thrust urban environment it will live in.
 

The rack-and-pinion electric power steering had a precise if slightly overboosted feel, with a tight turning radius. The 3,094-lb. GSX Essence stopped very quickly with big disc brakes all-round, the pedal biting high and quick as we got some nose dive at full stop. No fade after some hard use, either. The Encore GSX did react to thunderstorm crosswinds, and we had a bit of wind noise from the side mirror as well as some tire rumble, despite the soundproofing.

For safety, we had front pedestrian braking, automatic emergency braking, forward collision alert and lane-keep assist with gentle nudging at speed. We had the rearview mirror camera with a nice wide-angle view of traffic and good low light capability. The backup camera also showed a 360-degree overhead look, while adaptive cruise maintained speed and distance to a stop, then resumed with a button or pedal tap. The auto parking parallel parked me in a tight spot, steering itself in reverse, then when I shifted into drive to finish the deal. But it backed over the curb the first time. Auto-engine shutoff at stops was fairly transparent when it engaged as my foot moved from brake to gas pedal.
 

• The base front-wheel-drive Encore Preferred with 1.2-liter engine starts at $25,095; the all-wheel-drive Encore Essence with 1.3-liter engine starts at $31,495; and our FWD Essence started at $28,500 with the bigger engine, leather heated seats and steering wheel, air ionizer, 18-inch wheels and more standard. We had all the options: $1,790 advanced tech package with

Navigation, 360-degree camera, head-up display and adaptive cruise control; $1,500 Experience Buick package with moonroof and high-gloss alloy wheels; $770 convenience package with auto parking, inductive smartphone charger, rear-view video mirror and rain-sensing wipers; $520 hands-free power liftgate; $395 for the 1.3-liter engine; and $495 for a beautiful deep azure blue metallic paint. Final price - $34,965.
 

There are a lot of compact and sub-compact CUVs out there, from Audi to Subaru, and too many to detail here. But I like the Nissan Kicks, Hyundai Kona and Mazda CX-30 for more driving fun and power.

• Bottom line: a right-size semi-lux compact crossover with distinct style, decent tech level, and room for four and more. But it needs just a touch more and quieter power.
 
2020 Buick Encore GX Essence specifications
Vehicle type - 5-door compact FWD crossover
Base price - $28,500 (As driven - $34,965)
Engine type – turbocharged aluminum DOHC three-cylinder
Displacement – 1.3-liter
Horsepower (net) - 155 hp at 5,000 rpm (premium)
Torque (lb-ft) - 174 at 1,600 rpm
Transmission - CVT automatic
Wheelbase – 102.2 in.
Overall length – 171.4 in.
Overall width – 71.4 in.
Height – 64.1 in
Front headroom – 37.9  in.
Front legroom – 40.9 in.
Rear headroom - 38 in.
Rear legroom - 36 in.
Cargo capacity – 23.5 cubic feet/50.2 w/2nd row seats folded
Towing capacity – up to 1,000 lbs.
Curb weight - 3,094 pounds
Fuel capacity – 13.2 gallons
Mileage rating - 30 mpg city/ 32 mpg highway
 


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